No matter how careful you are and how much you try to care for your foot and ankle health, anyone who is active is likely to encounter some kind of foot and ankle injury at some point. Hopefully, it will be relatively mild. Even so, you might need additional protection and support in the form of an ankle brace.
The right ankle brace helps the wearer keep the foot and ankle in a stable position and encourages proper form in walking, running or other activities.
In recent years, there has been an explosion of innovation in the area of ankle braces to help people recover from foot and ankle injuries, to protect against re-injury and to deal with chronic foot and ankle pain. Recently, podiatrists have begun to prescribe them for a wider range of injuries and treatments.
The range of ankle braces can be bewildering. Generally, they fall into three broad categories:
- compression sleeve
Compression sleeve braces
Made of strong and elasticized fabrics such as neoprene or nylon, compression braces provide a limited amount of support. They resist movement from side to side, which helps prevent further ankle injuries from an ankle roll. They’re useful for mild sports injuries or to prevent ankle rolls during sports or exercise.
There are a variety of types available for purchase, including sleeves that look like reinforced socks with the toes and heels cut away, those that go only ankle-high and those that extend partway up the calf.
Adjustable ankle braces offer a higher degree of support and protection. They can be made of the same material as compression sleeves, and most also provide compression. They add support with laces or Velcro straps that can be adjusted for fit. They also provide more compression or support. Because of their adjustability through straps or laces, these kinds of ankle braces provide a fit that is more customized than compression sleeves. They’re usually easier to put on and take off than compression sleeves, as well.
Some come with stays, which are hard but flexible supports built into the sides for more stability and support along the ankle. Some have a semi-rigid core filled with inflatable air cells that provide flexible and adjustable support for the ankle.
These types of ankle braces, like the simple compression sleeves, usually fit inside of a shoe. They provide more protection against potential injuries than the compression sleeve and also can be used after an injury or during recovery for needed support for damaged ligaments and tendons, and to prevent re-injury. They’re suitable for treating moderate injuries such as sprains, swelling and edema, and even minor fractures. They’re often used by athletes during sports for added support and protection.
For severe foot and ankle injuries, and for mobility support immediately following surgery or treatment, ankle supports in the form of a full boot provide the greatest level of protection.
Typically, these kinds of ankle braces feature a rigid or semi-rigid shell that goes completely around the lower leg and ankle, or down each side, with straps or laces for adjustment. They also provide a rocker sole or other support under the foot to hold the ankle in the proper position for healing and recovery, and to reduce pressure on the sole and provide protection around it. They might also have semi-rigid stays for added support.
These ankle braces often cannot be worn with a shoe. Rather, they take the place of a shoe or boot. As a result, they cannot be used for sports. Instead, they are meant for recovery after injury and treatment or surgery.
Making the choice
Although these are three broad categories of ankle supports, there are many, many variations on these themes. Choosing the one that’s right for you will depend on:
- the nature of your injury (if any)—mild, moderate or severe.
- the strength of your ankle.
- the amount of support you need.
- how you intend to use it. Will it simply provide added stability or support during day-by-day use? Will it be used to help you walk, to provide added support during sports or to protect against possible injury or re-injury?
To make the right choice, talk with your physical therapist or professional in orthopedics in Sandy Utah who knows your needs and the range of ankle supports that exist. Remember you can always consult a foot and ankle health professional at Heiden Orthopedics for advice.